Former employees at NBC News have been questioned by the New York attorney general’s office about how the company handled sexual harassment allegations in the division.
Linda Vester, a former NBC News anchor, said Tuesday she met with staff from the office in January as part of a preliminary inquiry, which would precede an actual investigation. She said other former employees have been called in as well as part of an inquiry that began in mid-November.
An NBCUniversal representative said the company has not been contacted by the attorney general’s office regarding the matter. The company said it would be notified if a formal investigation moved forward. As a policy, the attorney general’s office does not comment on its investigations.
Vester told The Times that, based on the questioning, the inquiry focused on allegations of sexual harassment, retaliation and gender discrimination that would be violations of state and possibly federal civil rights law.
The former anchor said she was aware that a number of former employees were contacted by investigators, but would not reveal any names. She did say that “Matt Lauer was front and center” in the discussions and that an employee who worked for recently ousted MSNBC host Christ Matthews was also contacted.
Matthews left abruptly in March after a female guest on his program wrote how he made sexually inappropriate remarks while she prepared to appear on his show. NBC News also previously settled with a former female employee who filed a complaint against Matthews more than a decade ago.
Rich McHugh, the former NBC News producer who worked alongside Ronan Farrow as he reported on the sexual assault allegations against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, was among those called in for questioning. McHugh revealed the inquiry Monday night during an appearance on Fox News’ “Tucker Carlson Tonight.”
The revelation came on the same day NBCUniversal announced that NBC News Chairman Andy Lack is leaving the company at the end of the month. Under a reorganization plan announced Monday, Telemundo Chairman Cesar Conde was named the head of a newly formed NBCUniversal News Group, which will include NBC News, MSNBC and CNBC.
Lack was set to step down at the end of the year. But the date was moved up by NBCUniversal Chief Executive Jeff Shell in an effort to move past the scandals that have dogged the news division in recent years since Lauer, the former “Today” co-host, was fired over inappropriate behavior in the workplace in November 2017. It was later revealed that an employee who filed a complaint against Lauer alleged that he had raped her, an allegation he has denied.
The news division also suffered an embarrassing blow as it passed on Farrow’s reporting on the sexual assault allegations against disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein. Network executives said Farrow was unable to meet NBC News standards for getting the story on the air and allowed him to take his work to the New Yorker. He shared in a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting.
The news division’s handling of sexual harassment issues and the Weinstein story led to protests from women’s organizations, which called for an outside investigation of the company’s workplace practices.
Vester previously alleged that veteran NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw forcefully tried to kiss her in 1994 when she was staying at the Essex House Hotel in New York, where he showed up uninvited. A similar incident occurred in May 1995, she alleged, when Brokaw appeared unannounced at her flat in London when she was assigned to the network’s bureau there. She alleged that in both instances, Brokaw pressured her to have a sexual relationship with him. She said she feared that reporting the incidents would hurt her career. Brokaw denied any inappropriate behavior.
Vester told the Washington Post she decided to come forward with the allegations out of her belief that NBC News has failed to effectively investigate harassment issues at the company after Lauer’s firing.
Vester said she was asked by the attorney general’s office about NBC News’ efforts to defend Brokaw after her allegations were published. A letter was circulated and signed by some of the most prominent female journalists at the network, including Andrea Mitchell and Rachel Maddow, that praised Brokaw and his reputation among women in the company.